Virginia Beavert: Rattlesnake Challenged Eel to a Race

In this excerpt, Dr. Virginia Beavert tells how rattlesnake challenged eel to race, to try to steal eel’s identity.

Bio: Virginia Beavert received her Doctorate in Linguistics from the University of Oregon and teaches her native language, Ichishkin. Virginia Beavert, a member of the Yakama Nation, is a highly respected teacher and fluent speaker of her language, Yakama Sahaptin (Ichishkíin Sɨ́nwit)c. She was a key planner of the Yakama exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, and has served on numerous committees and planning councils related to the documentation and preservation of Native languages. ( She grew up learning Nez Perce, and also Klickitat, Umatilla and Yakama dialects of Sahaptin. A respected Yakama elder, she has made invaluable contributions to Confluence at the Sacajawea Park Story Circles project, and the Vancouver Land Bridge.

Transcript: But that’s where the Indians used to fish for eels. Salmon too, you know. But oh there was thousands of eels there. On those flat rocks they just looked like silk. The sun would hit them–and their blue you know–and they’d look like blue silk, it was beautiful.

My mother told me the legend about the eel and rattlesnake. It was their springboard for jumping into the Columbia you know. The Rattlesnake was trying to cheat. He was trying to steal his identity, he was trying to steal Eel’s identity. He challenged him to a race and then he showed him the wrong route and tried every which way to slow him down. But when Eel smelled that river all his energy came back and he just leaped in there and leaped right past the Rattlesnake. And they dove into the river. The Eel won that race. The poor old Rattlesnake had to stay Rattlesnake [laughs].

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